Should airlines charge you more for a better business class seat?

By David Flynn, August 18 2017

Not all business class seats are created equal – so why should an airline charge you the same fare for vastly different seats and experiences?

That's one school of thought which bubbled up this week following our story on Delta Air Lines' surcharge of up to US$1,000 for travellers booking into its Airbus A350 Delta One business class.

As it turns out, Delta applies this practice to several other routes where there's a choice of products at the pointy end.

Flights from the US mainland to Hawaii, for example, can be made on domestic jets with conventional business class seats (although they're in what the Yanks term a 'first class' cabin) or larger jets with international-grade flat beds in business class – with a surcharge varying from US$75 to US$150 each way, depending on the aircraft.

Air Canada does something similar, with a C$300 tariff on domestic flights such as Vancouver-Montreal if you choose to book onto a Boeing 787 with its flat bed business class pods over the regular recliners of its Airbus A320 jets.

A premium price for a premium product?

Should the same concept – paying a higher fare for a better seat on the same route and conversely, less money for a lesser seat – be applied here in Australia?

To give this issue a local focus, both Qantas and Virgin Australia fly a mix of their Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 jets on the east-west route.

The business class seats on those aircraft are a world apart... but each airline charges the exact same fare regardless of what jet you're flying in.

On a weekday in early November 2017, for example, Qantas has seven flights between Sydney and Perth – six on the Airbus A330 and one on the Boeing 737 – but all costed at $2,351 one-way in business class.

One the same day and the same route, Virgin Australia offers four flights starting at $1,802, with three flights on the A330 and one on the Boeing 737.

There's no argument that this five hour flight will see you substantially more comfortable – and more productive, if you're working above the clouds – on the Airbus A330.

And with Virgin Australia shifting its A330s onto Asian routes into Hong Kong and mainland China, the airline is planning a new Boeing 737 business class for east-west routes which could deliver an A330-style experience in the single aisle jets.

But for now, should transcontinental business class flights featuring the Boeing 737 be priced lower than those on the Airbus A330 – and if so, how much lower, and how would such differential pricing impact your choice of which flight to take?

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

17 Mar 2017

Total posts 14

I think there is a valid argument for this pricing method on relatively short haul routes where an airline is offering the standard short haul product or the superior long haul product.

I don't agree that it should be applied on regular long haul routes, where if anything they should offer a discount if you are having to fly a substandard outdated cabin rather than their current more competitive product.

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 259

For something to be substandard, by definition it has to be lesser than the standard. If the 737 is the standard the. The airbus is premium and should cost more. If the Airbus is the standard hen the 737 is substandard and should cost less. At the end of the day though, if the Airbus costs 125% of the 737 then whichever of them is the "standard" is kind of irrelevant.
The 737 IS substandard for all except domestic non-overnight flights of less than three four hours.

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 259

Way to miss the point.
P1
P1

24 Apr 2017

Total posts 37

Maybe instead of charging more for better seats, they should offer discounts for older less modern seats without all the full "business class" expectation features.

e.g. a business class seat should always be able to "lie flat" - if the airlines are still providing sub-standard recliners in business, then these should be cheaper.

Including the 717 'business' product.

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

How about 737 from Perth to Singapore?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Aug 2015

Total posts 126

"Not all Business Class seats are created equal." - As an armchair CEO, I would try to offer a consistent experience, instead of price differentiation.

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 12

As a realist I would wonder how you would expect airlines to deal with a large and varied fleet, they simply can't upgrade every plane to the same seat over a long weekend, and often there are different generations of product because the lifespan of a jet can be 2-3 times as long as that of the product.
Easy. You vary the price according to the product. Outdated business class is cheaper than state of the art business class.
LP
LP

30 Jun 2016

Total posts 45

Recently VA have been offering around $1300 fares PER-BNE on 737 compared to $1800 on 332. Not sure if that's a permanent change...

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 12

I think this is a fair approach especially when we are talking about a five hour east-west flight on an A330 vs 737, but I would rather see airlines discount the lesser-quality seat than increase the cost of the better seat.
mo
mo

22 Dec 2012

Total posts 37

I agree. With the standard of the long-haul business 'seat' improving across the board, traditional recliner seats will seem old fashioned and cheap. In the near future I doubt airlines would be able to fill old business seats without steep discounts. 

29 Mar 2014

Total posts 81

Heh the Europeans can fill up economy seats for the price of business class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1380

Discount vs Premium. Semantics.

One is more expensive.

What is more important would be a refund amount if you are downgraded due to rescheduling issues.

07 Jan 2016

Total posts 19

Lets say you were booked on an a330 service between PER and the east coast and paid the $premium for the enhanced business class. If the airline changed the aircraft to a 737 for operational reasons, would you expect to receive a refund for the fare difference ?

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 12

Yes, I definitely would!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Feb 2014

Total posts 451

I recently paid for an A330 business class trip from BNE to PER, and then it was swapped to a 737.  I was offered 5,000 points as part-refund.  Why is it that airlines can get away with not providing the product you've paid for, but products/services that you buy on the high street can't?

18 May 2016

Total posts 2

Exactly. I was forced to rebook on inferior QF flights when Emirates ceased their Syd Akl 380 service. Vastly different planes and lounges.  I paid for a superior product and have been forced to accept an inferior product. It's like buying an expensive tv then the shop taking it away and replacing it with a cheaper one while keeping the money you paid for the first one.  Airlines seem to be a power all to themselves and consumers don't have the rights they do in other commercial transactions. 
Yes, absolutely

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 82

Totally agree Susan. Seems to be a silly article really. The market will ultimately dictate how much of a premium they are willing to pay. And right now it's not as much as it used to be. 

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 12

I didn't say it's a "silly article" and I wouldn't say that at all, I think it raises a very valid point. The examples it lists make it quite clear that QF and VA generally charge the same fare for A330 vs 737 business class seats, and I think this should change.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 82

I agreed with your comments the rest were mine. 

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 531

An airline decides what product they want to offer... If they brand it Business class then it should be priced as a Business Class seat irrespective of the product. They don't offer cheaper prices for recliner seats vs flat bed seats!
I reckon they should, it's like going to Hertz and being charged the same to rent a Kia versus an Audi!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Nov 2016

Total posts 26

Hahaha~ your comment is so hilarious. 
That doesn't make sense. So using that logic JQ 'business class' should be the same price as a real business class? You pay for the product, not whatever name the airline gives it.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 160

No. Airlines shouldn't place an extra charge for a better J seat.
Airlines shouldn't charge me more for a better business class seat, but they should charge me less for a worse one!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 714

So should Economy seats be the same?

If I'm charged more for an upfront seat or an exit row, should I get a discount for a middle seat at the back or something like 36D on the Qantas A380?

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 259

Short answer - yes.

QF9 is costing more than communising to Sydney to get on QF1, hire cars cost more than taxis, Asahi costs more than VB, Rockpool costs more than McDonalds. In each case both products will get you to your intended destination (!) but of course there should be price differentiation between them.

On the assumption that each of us, given flexibility in our travel plans, would search out and select the Airbus the it is clearly a more valuable product and it should therefore cost more.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 82

Demand from the customer ultimately sets the price. Not what "should" happen. To manipulate the pricing we can choose to put our cash somewhere else where we are happier with the product consistency. While airlines do quietly offer compensation especially to high PCV pax when a cabin offering has been downgraded say from a suite product to a 737 it is never going to happen officially as they wish to remain able to switch aircraft for the demand and operational issues last minute.  All you can do is put your cash elsewhere where you feel a product is more consistent. 

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

31 Jan 2013

Total posts 26

Maybe "Premium" is the wrong word to use, it "should" be a fair price for the product you are receiving. i.e. you get what you pay for. But "should doesn't really come into play, ultimately the airlines will charge whatever they can get away with.

I will mention my biggest gripe again, SQ out of ADL. When I read this article, I immediately went to check the J ticket price for a date more than 6 months from now. $50 difference between ADL and SIN and SYD and SIN. So really ADL passengers are paying a premium for a shorter flight and a much inferior product.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 82

It's like apple product prices in Australia versus the rest of the world. Don't take any notice of the prices in other areas. A business will try to extract as much cash as it can from any particular market. Fairness is not a criteria for their shareholders. All we can do is put our money where we think we get value.  Airline fares are so complex with fare buckets et al you don't know of all the discount J fares have already been sold and it's jut the flexible ones left etc so many variable. Ultimately just pay what your happy with as business's will rort us unapologetically. 

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 259

Or are ADL people paying a premium for being able to avoid having to travel to Mel or Syd before flying to SG with QF? I would pay it and be happy that I had avoided the travel time that I otherwise would have incurred. Now if they got too greedy one of two things would happen - people would start flying domestically to avoid the cost of direct flights or another carrier would come in and compete on price (it would seem like a decent Jetstar 787 route for example) or on service.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 82

Agreed and one of the reasons Adelaide prices would be high on SQ is that there is no competition with Qantas flights to Singapore like PER/MEL/BNE/SYD.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 12

Maybe for whatever reason, operating costs are higher from ADL than SYD.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 403

David, where ever I can see VA offering business to Perth (meaning 737) it is cheaper than flights on the same day with The Business (meaning A332).  Granted it is not much, for example $1802 v $1902 for Perth-Melbourne and the cheap seat is on the red-eye!  

28 Nov 2016

Total posts 1

Same for Bris... I had assumed my return product would be the same (A330 The Business). However, the red eye is a mere 737. For the life of me, I can't figure out how this plane gets back to Brisbane most days! 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Jun 2011

Total posts 68

It is my experience that VA (at least on MEL-PER) do price differently. The flights denoted 'The Business' (i.e. A330) and those that are just 'Business' (i.e. 737) are at different price points, with the A330 being $100 more.

12 Feb 2014

Total posts 228

I often feel a bit smug about those flying biz on a 737. They're paying a lot of extra money for that bit of extra comfort and a glass of wine. For most domestic flights I can't justify or need it. Trans-continental though is a different story. 737 business is fine. A330 business is over the top for a day flight. I know I'm in the minority on this but I like a more open cabin experience. Suites make me feel a bit hemmed in.
AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 264

The airline will argue it's more than just a seat, it's biz class lounge, meals, FF etc etc so you cop a 737 chair on some flights that's too bad. But from consumer perspective it's hard to argue against a chair vs lie flat is not one and the same. I agree on a previous comment that they should not charge you more for a better product, but should definitely offer a discount on a product that is not as good. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2017

Total posts 25

The problem for the airline is that the specific plane for a particular route can change... but frankly I don't care about the airline.

I booked a J flight on an A330 which was changed at the last minute to a 737.  The problem was 1. I picked that particular flight because it had the more comfortable A330 seats, and 2. my daughter was seated away from me, despite having the same booking ref.

QF charge way to much for a PER > BNE J flight ($2200) when VA charge $999, I think they should match VA on the 737s.  I can't for the life of me understand how the trip is worth $2200.

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 259

It's worth it because people pay it.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1136

Hence the premium seat surcharge is a good idea because in the event of an equipment downgrade the airline can (in theory) easily refund you the surcharge component of your fare.

24 Feb 2012

Total posts 46

Does the fact that there are more biz seats on an A330 versus a B737 counter the cost? VA for example only have 8 biz seats on their B737 whereas the A330 has 20. Perhaps the B737 should be priced lower rather than paying a premium for the A330 experience

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 259

"Perhaps the B737 should be priced lower rather than paying a premium for the A330 experience"


??? What's the difference???

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Oct 2015

Total posts 43

The pricing should change, i find it intensly irritating when i book one aircraft then find that the entire flight has been downgraded by substituting an older aircraft, Qantas are good at this and it was a regular feature of flights to manila last year.

The other thing is the seat pitch once the person in front reclines in qantas 737 business you have to shut your laptop down, its a little better in virgin but still not ideal.

CX

05 Jun 2012

Total posts 121

Interesting question.  Finnair were charging the same prices for long-haul J while in the process of upgrading their fleet.  I carefully chose flights which had the full-lie-flat seats (Memsahib has had a pulmonary embolism so at high risk of DVT).  On arrival in the UK I went online to check the seats we had been allocated and realised the aircraft had been switched to angled-flat.  Called, and after discussing options, changed to a later flight.  Ticket change fee and extra fare (different fare class) total GBP500, plus cost of hotel.  On check-in at Heathrow asked to check no aircraft change for the long-haul flight - confirmed.  Check-in at Helsinki gate, get on to plane, realise they are angle-flat (they switched planes on us again!), turned round and walked off again.  Ground crew v sympathetic (and a bit flustered!), but ended up having to pay for another night in a hotel.  Long story short, we eventually got what we wanted albeit connecting flights via Bangkok.  

Now, had I had the option of paying more for a guaranteed lie-flat seat, I would definitely have taken it.  No question.  In fact, for me, that is the baseline requirement for long-haul business. And I would definitely look to be compensated if that was not what was delivered.  However, many airlines DON'T guarantee that.  Maybe they should :-)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Oct 2016

Total posts 11

I for one have just about had a gut-full of all of this class creep and penny pinching surging into the airline industry.   I thought business class would be beyond this practice.  Most are aware that all business class cabins are not created equal, but the best thing (for me) about business class is that the flying experience is better and more convenient than economy classes.  Now that we have Economy and Premium Economy, what's next, Business and Premium Business?  Enough already.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 109

Supply and Demand

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Aug 2017

Total posts 14

I had booked a particular flight for Dec 2016 on the A330 PER - BNE departing at 16.25pm, Qantas swapped it to B737 in the Oct. The price I paid for four and half hours in full J class section of the B737 arriving in BNE late evening was bad enough, and to make it even more unpleasant passengers from Y lining up in the J aisle to use the toilet topped it off. The J class on a evening flight to BNE on a B737 IMHO is sub standard for the cost.

06 Dec 2014

Total posts 21

I'm flying to Perth in 4 weeks. Going across on the 332 and coming back on the 737. On the return trip I'm usually happy to fly economy but thought I'd use some of my FF points to do an upgrade so I'm going to find out how much difference there really is.

The big issue for me is the cost of a business class seat from BNE to PER. $2200 is simply too much. To make matters worse Qantas have reduced the number of 332 flights in the last 12 months. 

I'm flying across the ditch in December and spending a month in the shaky isles. I'm flying Emirates J class. I could have done a Qantas codeshare but the Emirates website was nearly $400 cheaper.

A return trip on Qantas from BNE/AKL is just under $1700. A return trip BNE/PER is nearly $4500. Is the distance flown really that much different? I would suspect that the competition on the international routes keeps both Qantas and VA reasonably honest. However, with no real rivals here they can do what they like domestically.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2017

Total posts 25

but holden QF does have a rival, VA!  Why are VA offering J class PER > BNE at $999 when QF charge $2200???

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 108

Airlines shouldn't charge more, but guess what, they will and do. If they can squeeze an extra dollar out of a J class window seat as apposed to a J class central isle seat, they will. It will of course make a sub class within a class, but with all the cut backs in airlines already, the differences between the service levels in aircraft classes today is minimal.The really only difference now between the classes is the seat configuration within the aircraft and the menu, as aposed to the  service levels airlines supplied in the 70's and 80's to its P Class passengers compared to its Y Class - which in its self was not that shabby either. No more suckling pig on a platter served hot and fresh as they did in the 70's!.
So get ready and be prepared - the new price scale is coming and. Swissair are already do it!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2017

Total posts 25

What new price scale, traveller90?  What are Swissair doing?

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 108

Swissair!  J Class - extra surcharge for their single "Throne" seat configuration over the standard dual seat option. All the major competitors are already on board in the planning stage, watching and listening, and over time with slow progression, preferred J class seats surcharges will be introduced, and no one will notice. Its generational acceptance of change. Do you think the major airlines 20 years ago would have gotten away with charging for 20kgs of hold luggage.

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 259

We are seeing it already, with the $20 for exit rows now live being one example.

It is only a matter of time, I hope, before they start charging more for second carry on bags. (Let the comments fly!!!)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2015

Total posts 91

Problem is they dont lower the price for the inferior product they increase the price for the new product... so Perth to Sydney will end up at $2700

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jul 2014

Total posts 99

If I was on a Status run I would pay the lower price  to sit in J 

I don't think the supposed extra $$ would win you an enormous  difference in SC 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Nov 2012

Total posts 23

Singapore Airlines has always had a premium on their newer business class seats on the A380 and B773. It's even charged when booking RTW tickets.

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 84

Last Tuesday flew SYD - PER on VAs A330 in Business.  Love it.  Great seat, lots of space and nice big screen.  The almost 6hr flight (strong head winds) was a breeze.  A few hours of uninterrupted work, then a nice lunch and a couple of movies. The lunch (and food though) was disappointing.  The main chicken dish was great, but the entree of seafood dish (am allergic to seafood) or vegetable soup (nope) was disappointing.  I asked if I could get the cheese platter to replace the entree and the answer was no... I could only choose one desert! 
On the way back I flew on VAs 738 in Business.  Flight was only 3hrs 2mins, but I was glad to get off.  Seat was uncomfortable, had to watch TV on crappy Samsung Tablet, and breakfast was horrible.  Everyone in business (all 6 of us) ended up taking the scrambled eggs and chicken sausage from economy instead of the braised beans, qunioa etc dish offered in Business.  But, crew was MUCH better on the 738 flight.
So, yes, airlines should charge different prices for different products.  I'd pay for Business on the A330 again, but not bother on the 738s.
A good point Jazzop. The crew on the flight does make such a difference. Qantas is not particularly good at cabin crew consistency, it's disappointing that you find VA going the same way. I really like SQ's approach to service - it often comes across as a bit distant but it is consistent and better than good. You know what you are going to get.

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 84

I should clarify, the 330 crew were fine, I just found they were more rigid and their lack of flexibility with the food disappointing.  On the 738 flight, when it became obvious none of us wanted the breakfast options available, the crew went and got the option from economy but still presented it all plated up and looking great.  That is great service.
Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 397

Speaking of the 737 I think its criminal using this aircraft to Bali...even in J you're in 'get-me-off' mode after 3 hours!! The night flights are a killer for 5 hours.
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